This is the seventh Bills/Browns game in eight years and my fourth preview of these usually meaningless games. I say "usually meaningless" because these teams always finish at the bottom of their divisions, hence the annual matchups, but this year both teams are above 0.500 and the Browns are legitimate playoff contenders. The Browns have won four of the last six meetings and I suspect they'll win again on Sunday.
That said, these teams are remarkably similar, at first blush. The Bills have scored 238 points and allowed 207 (good for +31) while Cleveland has scored 242 points and allowed 219 (+23). Both teams have young first-round QB's riding the pine behind old journeymen. They rank 6th and 9th (clicks!) in terms of lowest turnover percentage, and they rank 16th and 17th in terms of highest scoring percentage. That said, they arrive at the same place via different routes.
The Bills get most of their offensive work done through short efficient passes and avoiding INTs. They've attempted the 13th most passes but have the 6th fewest yards per attempt. But that's ok with me because they're only 1 TD behind the league average and only four teams have a lower INT%. The running game is a bit of an afterthought--only five teams have fewer rush attempts and they all suck (ATL, JAX, TEN, TB, OAK) so they're probably stuck playing catch-up all the time and thus passing. The Bills have only 5 rushing TD; only four teams have fewer (PIT, SD, OAK, and TB all have 4 rushing TD). They finally got a RB over the 300 yard mark for the season last week (Boobie Dixon) and no one has more than 80 carries after eleven games. For the first time in forever their rush defense is good, ranking eighth, second, and tenth in rushing yards, rushing TD, and rushing yards/attempt, respectively. They also lead the league with 46 sacks, good for a 10.5% sack percentage which is almost two full points more than the next best team (Philly).
As I noted previously, the Browns have the lowest completion percentage in the league--55.6%, tied with the Jets and almost three full percentage points below the #30 team. But they have average more yards per completion than any other team--14.0 yards, which is 1.1 yards more than the #2 team (the Tennessee Inbreds). I guess this means that the Browns go for broke in the passing game and swing for the fences every time Brian Hoyer drops back. So it's odd that they have only 11 passing TD, 29th in the NFL. They do, however, have the second most rushing attempts and rushing TD, so maybe their plan is to throw bombs to get to the goal line and then pound it in from there. Or maybe they grind it out for the most part, occasionally taking deep shots down the field and being successful about half the time. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Josh Gordon returned to Cleveland's lineup last week after serving a 10 game suspension. In case you don't watch much of the NFL, Josh Gordon is really good at football, particularly the aforementioned "deep shots" aspect of football.
Cleveland's defense is stout against the pass (ranking ninth, eight, and first in passing yards, passing TD, and INT, respectively) and willowy against the run (ranking twenty-ninth, seventeenth, and twenty-eight in rushing yards, rushing TD, and rushing yards/attempt, respectively).
So on paper this should be a good matchup with both teams' strengths countered by the other's strengths. Ultimately though all of the previous comparing and contrasting was useless. Josh Gordon's return throws all those numbers out the window and Cleveland's offense will take a leap forward and will be too much for the Bills to handle. Further, Cleveland hasn't allowed more than 24 points in seven weeks (and only twice all season) while Buffalo has scored more than 24 points only three times all year and two of those games were against the Jets so they don't really count.
Plus if Buffalo wins this week then they have a good shot at winning eight games (the eighth win being Oakland in week 16) and that simply can't happen.
Final score: Browns 17, Bills 11